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Janine Milne

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Talent Spot: Louise Rooney, head of HR at ServiceSource


As HR manager at IT firm ServiceSource, Louise Rooney has a major recruitment job on her hands.

When she first joined, the company’s headcount was about 120, but in less than a year, it had grown to 165 and there are plans to create another 100 posts over the next few months.

“Sourcing the right people is really important to us, but secondly, because there’s so much growth opportunity, we have to make sure that the people development focus is there so we don’t keep recruiting externally,” Rooney says.

Although the firm, which uses data analytics to help customers save money on their service contracts, is a fairly big US west coast operation with offices worldwide, it is a relative newcomer to the UK.

It set up in Liverpool as little as 18 months ago but, because of its location and newness, one of Rooney’s key roles is to increase brand awareness in order to attract potential staff.

She has come a long way in her 10 years of HR life, however. It was while working in the HR function at Marks & Spencer during the sandwich year of her business degree that Rooney’s finally decide to choose HR as a career.

So straight after college in 2002, she joined Phoenix Medical Supplies as an HR advisor. Although it was a regional role, the region stretched from Runcorn to Plymouth, which meant that she was travelling constantly while trying to fit study in at the same time.
Dealing with the unions
“I was 22 or 23, in my first proper job carrying on a regional role and doing a Masters,” Rooney remembers.

The job itself, if a little exhausting, was a great education. Because the company was traditional and established and had grown quickly through acquisition, Rooney spent a lot of time dealing with the unions and ensuring that terms and conditions were met.

“It was good grounding,” she says. “It was an HR generalist role and, because of the environment, I did lots of things that I wouldn’t have expected for a first role, like dealing with unions.”

But in order to widen her experience of different industries and organisations, Rooney next made the conscious decision to take on a number of interim roles. The first of these was with United Biscuits. The company may have been through lots of changes of ownership, but the average tenure of service there was 28 years.

It was also heavily unionised and so, once again, she got stuck into employee and industrial relations issues. But Rooney enjoyed learning about the subject and continued to do so with her next interim appointment as an employee relations specialist at MBNA.
She quickly realised that specialisation wasn’t for her and that she preferred more generalist HR roles, however.

“After the experience of specialising at MBNA, I made a conscious decision that being a generalist is for me,” Rooney explains. “I enjoy being able to make an impact in the full lifecycle rather than just in one area. In the employee relations role, it can feel quite negative in terms of the things you’re dealing with.”

New experiences
So, in 2006, she joined student accommodation business Unite where she immediately felt at home.
“I’d heard a lot about ‘value-led’ companies, but in some of the places I’d worked, I’d felt that they’d only scratched the surface,” she says. “But here it really did exist. It was the first place where I thought businesses can be both financially successful and be focused consciously on values and its people.”

Because of its student customer base, Unite attracted a young team and so it was a lively place to work. Rooney reported to the director in the Bristol head office, but because the company had grown to a size where it needed more local support, she ended up running the Northern office, covering an area stretching from Birmingham to Aberdeen.

And it was the ex-chief executive of Unite who pointed her in the direction of her next role at biometrics company, Human Recognition Systems. At that time in 2007, the organisation was very small and she was employee number 16.

But a new investment was about to take the firm into a new phase that would require it to have HR support. In her four years with the company, revenue tripled and headcount grew to just under 50 – no mean feat in an economic climate that was crippling many other UK businesses.

“One thing about working there was that I was able to get involved in parts of the business that HR wouldn’t usually get involved in,” Rooney remembers.

Not only did she up the HR department and help to shape the company culture and working environment, but she also took on responsibility for managing the engineering support function.

Moving in the same direction
It was, she admits, a “baptism of fire”. Although the team only comprised four engineers running a help desk, the role involved her negotiating support contracts with big organisations, which was out of her comfort zone.
It also meant that she had to keep a much closer eye on the purse strings than she was used to. Although Rooney had considered herself financially astute enough in the large companies that she’d worked for previously, she found the situation much more immediate in a small firm.

“I had to be a little more creative than before because budgets were so small – sometimes zero – so I had to think laterally,” she notes. “But it was a business that didn’t have ‘small company syndrome’, so especially from an HR point of view, it really was a company that was open to anything.”

But working for an IT firm for four years also opened her eyes to the technology industry, so when an opportunity to head up HR at ServiceSource in the UK came up, she saw its potential immediately.

“I really understood the business model, which is important,” Rooney explains. “If I can’t buy into it and have no connection I would struggle to be fully immersed in the business.“

During the selection process, she spoke to lots of different people at the company, but what impressed her most was the similar way in which they all talked about the business and appeared to be moving in the same direction.

As a result, her goal now is to help the company find people with a similar vision to help fuel the fast-paced growth that it is hoping for.

And finally…
Who do you admire most and why?
Susan Lucia Annunzio, who is currently chief executive of The Center for High Performance in the US. She is a strategic advisor to the CEOs of leading global companies on strategy and business transformation, and is a globally recognised speaker and thought leader on shaping and maintaining high-performance business environments.
I find her career to date inspiring and the research that she’s produced and put into action in global companies is fascinating. I love Susan’s straightforward, no-nonsense approach and her ability to inspire others.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
Figure out who you are and what you stand for and always be true to yourself – not always easy to apply consistently, but if/when you do, you’ll be sure to do the right thing…and sleep at night.

What’s your most hated buzzword?

Deep dive – no particular reason, I just find it irritating.

How do you relax?

By switching off the Blackberry and taking my frustrations out on the cross-trainer…or I find a glass of wine always helps.

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